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Landowners sue BIA, energy companies

A pair of Osage County landowners have filed a federal class action lawsuit against the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, as well as multiple energy companies “seeking declaratory and injunctive relief for the failure of the BIA to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969.”

The lawsuit, filed last week in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma, seeks to represent not only the two named plaintiffs, but also all “similarly situated” surface land owners in Osage County.

The BIA approves concession agreements, leases and drilling permits for various oil and gas operators within the mineral estate of the Osage Nation.

A favorable injunction ruling by the court on behalf of the landowners could potentially shut down all oil and gas drilling operations within the Osage Mineral Estate until the BIA and the involved energy companies fulfill the requirements of the NEPA Act.

The NEPA Act directs all federal agencies to assess the environmental impact of proposed “major federal actions” that would significantly affect the quality of the environment. The plaintiffs in the suit allege that the BIA has not acted in accordance with NEPA mandates.

The lawsuit claims that the BIA approved agreements, leases and permits in violation of NEPA. The plaintiffs seek to recover for injuries suffered as a result of the defendants’ alleged “trespass, nuisance, negligence, and unjust enrichment.”

The two landowners bringing the lawsuit — Martha Donelson and John Friend — each own land in Osage County.

The named defendants, including Devon Energy and multiple other energy companies, are all engaged in “drilling, completion, and operation of conventional oil and gas wells, horizontally drilled oil and gas wells, injection wells and waste fluid disposal wells, and oil and gas related facilities,” according to the lawsuit.

The landowners seek a declaratory judgment from the court that certain concession agreements, oil and gas mining leases and drilling permits approved by the Osage Agency of the BIA be ruled void because “the Osage Agency has wholly failed to satisfy (or even undertake) the site-specific NEPA analysis requirements prior to approving” the various leases, agreements and permits to companies involved.

The plaintiffs are also asking the court to issue an injunction against the defendants from entering the landowners’ property until obtaining a valid lease and drilling permit with the requisite NEPA documentation.

Donelson owns approximately 2,000 acres near Burbank and the property is subject to various oil and gas leases approved by the BIA. Friend owns land near Hominy and the property is also subject to various BIA-approved oil and gas mining leases.

Donelson and Friend accuse the U.S. Department of the Interior of “failing to carry out its non-discretionary duties, by and through its agency, the BIA…” Specifically, the plaintiffs claim to have suffered loss of use and enjoyment of their property, contamination of their surface water and groundwater, and loss of property value among other damages.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are represented by Gentner F. Drummond of Tulsa.

The Osage Nation Mineral Estate underlies approximately 1,475,000 surface acres of land in Osage County.

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